It's hard to measure the esteem I hold for Karen Carpenter. She played the drums and sang at the same time, which is awesome — but, unfortunately, it's also a talent she shared with Phil Collins. Unlike Collins, however, Carpenter was never knighted. She struggled with life, and lost big time. When she sang "Goodbye to Love," she really meant it. That's why that song is my favorite Carpenters tune. The other day, I loaded it onto my iPod and played it repeatedly as I rode public transport through the city.
I got out at Civic Center and did my usual crawl for a new bar that might've previously escaped my radar. I trolled down Sixth Street (one doesn't walk down Sixth Street; one trolls). At Minna, I passed a place with huge wooden letters hanging in the window that read OPEN. I got a flash of Alice in Wonderland, reaching toward the "Drink Me" bottle, and walked into the OPEN place, which called itself Rancho Parnassus.
I had never seen Rancho Parnassus before, and found out it'd been open for about a month. I liked the place immediately. It had a National Parks–mod '60s–fern bar thing going on. The walls were painted a darkish blue and the floor had a green pattern, and there was enough rustic wood around to lend a cabin feel to the room. It was quirky and strange enough to make me think of Narnia after the White Witch was expelled and winter left.
The Rancho had a selection of wines and a bunch of beer, but is also a coffeehouse and cafe. All I saw, however, was the beer, which I thought was a brilliant move, considering that the only nearby booze competition comes from a few scattered corner stores and Anu.
I ordered my drink and waited for it. I had turned off my iPod, but the music playing over Rancho's sound system sounded even squarer than anything the Carpenters could have created. It was early-'60s Caucasian elevator "jazz," which could only mean one group.
"Is this the Cowsills?" I asked the dudes behind the counter.
They had never heard of the Cowsills. One guy told me it was a group called the Wondermints. We got to talking about how lamely good the music was, and I said that I had been listening to the Carpenters all day, so I knew lamely good when I heard it. His face lit up, and he began to cue them up on his Mac. And thus began the Carpenters Nerds trivia game, with each of us topping the other. "Did you know that Richard used to own a pair of apartments in Downey, California, called Close to You and We've Only Just Begun?" I asked. En garde.
"Yes!" he said, and then launched into how the Carpenters grew up in New Haven, where they used to play old jazz records in their basement and push each other on a swing their dad installed from the ceiling. This, he said, perfectly illustrated where their later music was coming from. Touché.
He asked me which song I would like to hear, so of course I said "Goodbye to Love" for its amazing guitar solo. I also mentioned the Carpenters documentary in which the guitarist of said solo talks at length about how it came about. "That's a great doc," the bartender said. And so it is now written, that on the 11th day of May, in the year 2010, Katy St. Clair met her Carpenters match.
I took a seat at a big round table by the door. At the center was a wide lazy susan with cubbyholes, in each of which was a book, pamphlet, or magazine. I spun it and took a gander. There were vintage maps poking out at various angles, but what drew me the most was a notebook full of drawings and words, as though someone had written and illustrated a personal picture book. The words didn't always make sense, but they didn't seem to have been written by a child, either. The pictures were somewhat sophisticated, and full of what looked like princesses, dragons, knights, and stormtroopers. The main character was named Lotus Blossom. This had to be some sort of art project. There were two other notebooks, also chock-full of words and pictures. Lotus Blossom seemed to be taking on someone named Roboto. Lotus Blossom also seemed to be a man, which made me wonder why anyone would name him after a well-known metaphor for a vagina. I was intrigued. I had to go and ask my new pal behind the bar, whose name was Alan. "So, who wrote the Lotus Blossom saga?"
He looked confused, and for a minute I think he thought I was asking about more obscure Carpenters trivia. Then he realized that I was talking about the books on the table. His face lit up as he told me that the stories are apparently by a guy named Anthony, who is learning disabled and has a dream of making a movie, Lotus Blossom Versus Doctor Roboto. "He is going to make his movie right here, over in that corner," he said. "Anyone can be in it. You just sign up."
I couldn't believe how cool that was. According to Alan, Rancho Parnassus apparently came into being just so that Anthony could make his movie. Everything has led up to this moment. The Rancho is a collaborative art space, where you can drop in and be part of something — like the Lotus Blossom saga. And did I mention there is beer?
We talked longer, and I got even more interested in Anthony's movie. I promised to spread the word, hoping that people will show up to be a part of the film. "Please do," Alan said.
I had to go, and Alan asked me which Carpenters song I wanted to hear on my way out. "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" seemed appropriately strange enough.
"You got it," he said, and cued it up.
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